Anything We Want
Fear coursed through me, and in my struggle to get up quickly, I fell right on Dana. I actually heard the breath escape him, but he shrugged me off and continued to sleep.
I pulled away from Dana and got to my knees while I tried to orient myself, then stood. My legs were shaky at first, but after a few seconds I was a bit more lucid.
Bernie said, “Put some pants on. People are here.”
“Turn the light on?” I asked.
He did, and he was dressed just like earlier, but he’d become rumpled looking. I asked, “What’s going on? Did something happen?”
I picked my pants up from the floor and pulled them on. I was closing the snap when Bernie said, “The police found a witness. They want you to look at a picture.”
I got excited. “Somebody saw it?” I pulled my fly up. “I’m ready.”
I had to go to the bathroom, but it could wait. Bernie said, “Somebody thinks they saw something. The cops feel that she’s credible.”
We walked over
to my father’s office, and there were three men in there who
hadn’t been at the house earlier. Bernie introduced me. “Gents,
this is Paul Dunn,
I shook hands with each, and Mr. Padillo asked me to sit at my father’s desk. Bernie said, “Paul, people saw your father’s abduction, but what they saw varies. I’m not saying anyone isn’t telling the truth, but none of these people were expecting to see anything at all, and what they saw was basically with peripheral vision. There are only two constants. One is a blue camper-type van, and the other is a tall man who appeared to coerce another man into the van. That may have been your dad at the moment of his abduction.”
My eyes were wide, and Bernie tamed his voice into gentle mode. “Paul, listen to me. I’m not trying to upset you: not at all, but you will hear these things. Just take them as statements: maybe fact, maybe conjecture, but I’m not trying to paint a lurid picture of what happened yesterday. We found a witness who was there, and she has a somewhat clearer recollection of that tall man than the other witnesses, and a less clear recollection of the man with him. She described your father down to the color of his shirt, and that gives her memory some credibility.
I said, “Okay. What do I do?”
Bernie smiled, “You look at some pictures.” He looked at Mr. Padillo. “Show him the first one.”
The man took a good-sized piece of paper, and laid it in front of me. It was drawn in broad strokes and was nothing like a portrait, but I recognized my father. “Dad! That’s my father!”
I looked up, and Mr. Padillo was smiling. He placed another picture atop the first one. I looked, and drew a blank. Then I thought how important this was, and kept looking, but there was nothing about the face on that paper that I recognized. I shook my head no.
The next picture did ring a bell of familiarity, but I couldn’t think from where. I pointed at it and said, “Yeah,” but that’s all I could say. It was just a head, kind of round. All of the eyes had looked the same, and these were no different, but there was something, and I found myself looking at that picture for a long time, but I finally had to shrug. I looked up and said, “Familiar maybe, but I don’t know.”
The FBI agent
said, “Paul, try to think where that familiarity comes from.
That was a
good question, because that face didn’t go with
Bernie said, his voice calm and soft this time, “Try to narrow it
down, Paul. Think of places in
I looked up at him and yawned involuntarily, but big time.
Bernie Sutton smiled at me, then around at the other men. “We forget sometimes. We’ll take a copy of these, Paul, all of them. If you don’t mind, wake your mother and Ally and send them here, then go on back to bed, and you can look again in the morning.”
I looked at him gratefully, and when I was leaving the office Bernie said, “Try to have a dream with that familiar face in it, okay son?”
That made me laugh, and I turned back to grin at him while I made the okay sign with my hand.
I could see from under the door that a light was on in my mother’s room, so I knocked instead of just tapping on the door.
My mother’s voice said, “One moment,” and the door opened. My mother stood there with Ally right behind her, and seemed surprised to find me at the door. “Paul!” she exclaimed.
“They found a witness,” I said. “Bernie’s in Dad’s office with some police, and they want you to look at some pictures. I wasn’t any help.”
My mother looked at me there in just jeans and an undershirt, and apparently decided that she and Ally, in robes, were dressed for the occasion, and they hurriedly went by me. Ally stopped to touch my shoulder and said, “Go back to bed, Paul,” and she kissed my forehead.
I did as I was told after I used the john, but Dana had used my absence to sprawl all over the bed, and I woke him while trying to make room for myself. He didn’t say anything, probably thinking I’d just gone to the bathroom or something, but I was still awake. After a few minutes, I sensed that Dana was awake, too, and I mumbled, “They found some witnesses.”
“Mmm?” Dana suddenly stirred. “Witnesses? Tell me what happened!”
“People saw Dad being kidnapped. I don’t know how many saw something, but they have descriptions, and I had to look at some pictures.”
“And?” Dana asked.
“I don’t know. One guy is a stranger for sure. I don’t think I ever met anyone who looks even a little like him. The other guy looked more familiar. I can’t say it’s someone I know, but more ordinary looking, so he probably looks like a lot of people.”
Dana sighed. “They don’t want me to look?” he asked, sounding sorely disappointed.
I said, “Dana, don’t get down. I’m sure they’ll want you to look, and your mother. I think they asked me first because I live with Dad. Mom and Ally are in there now They’re probably just doing the list from most likely to least likely to know somebody.”
Dana was silent for a long moment, then said, “Yeah, you’re probably right. I just … I wish I could do something. I feel so useless here.”
I Said, “I know. I feel the same way. I just hope they’re not hurting Dad, not being mean to him. I can’t stand it, not knowing like this.”
closer to me, so our arms were touching from the shoulder to the elbow and
didn’t say anything, but his being there was a comfort. It was my father
who brought Dana into our lives, and my father who made it seem like such a
natural thing to do. It started off as the right thing to do, and
possibly the only thing, when we came across a frozen Dana during a
It was, in a way, especially for my father. I know he’s been charged up since Dana and Elenora showed up, and has channeled his innate creativity into providing for them, while making it seem to them that they are doing him one huge, everlasting favor by accepting his kindness.
I’d certainly jumped on the same bandwagon, and I think I might have been climbing the walls in our current predicament if Dana weren’t there. I felt responsibility to Dana myself, as well as to Elenora, and I knew that if something happened to my father, I’d carry on. Dana and Elenora weren’t a burden to me, not at all. In a lot of ways, their presence in my current world enriched my life in ways I hadn’t imagined when ‘helping’ people was just an abstract thought between me and my father.
They were real people, living under unfortunate circumstances, but it was only circumstances that separated us. Elenora was a survivor, and had run away from a family-dictated abortion. Dana was the living result of her decision, and they’d made it, even over a rocky road that led nowhere. I suppose you have to be born poor, or to learn poverty at an early age, to survive it. Elenora had to learn it, and Dana had been born to it. He’d learned to steal when he had to, but that was to survive, not to buy himself toys. He had also, through a variety of state, school, and ski-area sponsored programs, managed to learn to ski, and he skied like a champion.
I figured that Dana’s skiing, in a few years, would lead him to the top of the heap worldwide, and he’d find riches in his own right doing what he knew and loved best. In the meantime, he was my father’s other son, which made him my brother, and the feelings I had right then made me grip his wrist. “Dana?”
“I’m thinking. Whatever happens, you’re my brother, right? I love you, man.”
Dana sounded choked when he whispered, “Do you ever pray?”
I said, “I’m not really religious. I could try.”
Dana whispered, “Me either. After I met you, I prayed sometimes. Not to anyone, really, but for me and Mom.”
I said, “That’s nice.”
Dana said, “It worked, you know. Your father heard me. He did. He said he heard a bell, but it was me ringing it. I think we should pray now, to let Dad know we’re here, that he’s not alone with those people.”
I thought it over and said, “I don’t know how.”
Dana said, “It’s like a birthday wish, when you blow out the candles. You do the wish, and I’ll try to ring the bells, okay?”
“I …” I said. Then I shut up and wished, trying to clear my mind so only my father was there, and when I pictured his face I wished him all the goodness there is, and tried to recite a list of all the people in his world who loved him. Doing this, a sound formed in my head. It was a roaring noise at first, like a high wind, but it morphed into musical sounds, which became a carillon from my TSO album, and I slept.
I heard a voice whispering emphatically, “Dana. Dana, wake up.”
I sensed Dana moving beside me, then recognized Bernie’s voice. “Dana, can you take a look at some pictures? Good, good, good. Take a minute to wake up. I’ll wait in the hall.”
I smiled, and almost said something. Instead, I tried to get back to sleep and let Dana have his moment.
He got out of bed, and I heard him getting his bearings, then the rustling of clothes as he pulled something on. The door closed with a click when he left, and I went back to sleep.
In a second I was sitting bolt upright, with a sense of who the second man in those pictures might be.
I’d met him once, when I announced my decision to leave Barent’s Academy. A counselor, but I couldn’t think of his name right away.
+ + + + + + + +
“You’re leaving, Paul? Whatever for? You’ve been doing very well here.”
“No I haven’t,” I said defiantly. I wanted to say that I hated the place, but came out with, “I don’t fit in here.”
“Why do you say that? Your records show that you make excellent grades, and you’re quite popular.”
“I’m saying that I don’t belong here. I’m not learning how to be what I want to be, which is normal! I don’t think my father’s money makes me anything special, and I don’t like hearing that it does. I’m just me. I know we’re rich, but I don’t have anything to do with that.”
He held up a well-manicured finger and said, “Ah, but none of the boys here have contributed to their family fortunes, yet. Like it or not, you will all be the inheritors: the stewards of those riches, and your family has enrolled you in this institution so you’ll learn to bear that responsibility.”
“I’ll give it
away,” I said. “Can you teach me that? How about I toss it in the
Right then, Maurice Charmont flashed a brief look of anger at me, but it lasted just a second. He leaned forward on his desk and said, “Don’t go thinking you’re that rich, Paul. Many of the boys here are heirs to fortunes in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
I looked at the guy, all manicured and impeccable like the other powers at Barents. He was handsome, probably a bit younger than my father, and generally a pretty decent guy. Right then, though, I’d had it with him, and said something I’d been told many times to keep private. “Oh yeah?” I said. “How’s three billion sound? Three billion and growing! Does that mean I have to be a snob? Does it make me better than anybody else?”
Maurice looked at me and smiled. “What are you looking for, Paul? This is one of the finest schools in the nation, and your parents have you here for that one reason. What is it that you feel we can’t provide?”
I said, as firmly as I could, “I want to be normal. I … I want to know how things work. I want to know how to fix things, and how to make things right when I mess up.” I looked at him, “Why do you want me to say here? My father has money, but it’s his money, not mine. Now my parents are divorced, and all I want is to go live a regular life with my dad.”
Maurice nodded, then leaned closer. “Have you discussed this with your father, then?”
“Yes,” I said. “He told me I owed you this courtesy.”
+ + + + + + + +
I was up and
out of bed in no time, and I didn’t bother looking for clothes. I ran to Dad’s
office and burst in, crying, “Maurice Charmont!
That might be him … the blond guy! He works at
Dana was there in dad’s chair, looking at me, confusion all over his face.
Bernie said, “Sit down, Paul,” pointing to one of the side chairs. “Who is Maurice Charmont?”
I told them, and while I was doing that, one of the officers was repeating some of my words into a cell phone, while another was tapping madly on a laptop. Meanwhile, I had that drawing back in front of me, and added details verbally while Mr. Padillo added them to a separate drawing using chalk. Nothing I said collided, and in what seemed like no time to me, we had a good likeness of Maurice.
“You’re satisfied?” Mr. Padillo asked.
I looked very closely and took my time before I nodded. “That’s Maurice Charmont.”
It was Maurice in the new drawing, but we still didn’t know if he was involved in any way beyond mere resemblance. The police had new things to look into, and daylight was beginning to show outside.
I hadn’t slept much, and my eyes felt heavy. I knew sleep wouldn’t come back to me easily, and I could tell that Dana felt the same, so I said to the room, “We’ll make some breakfast, if that’s okay. Come downstairs if you’re hungry.”
The men looked grateful, and I led Dana downstairs after we took the time to clean up and dress for the day. The house was already a mess from the night before, with food plates all around, and we made fast work of cleaning up before we started on a new mess of our own.
There were still ribs on the counter from Mr. Timek that nobody had eaten, so we neatened them up and put them in the oven to warm. Then we started making a normal breakfast of coffee, bacon and eggs.
I was doing something useful, but my head felt vacant. I didn’t say anything to Dana, and he was silent as well until we had some food ready. Dana asked, “You gonna eat?” and I was suddenly hungry, so I flashed a small grin at him and started filling a plate.
Dana did the same, and we ate in silence, looking at each other occasionally. I thought briefly of how cruel it was of us to be eating when we didn’t know what was happening to Dad, yet when Dana’s face seemed to ask me the same question, I shrugged and smiled, then lifted a forkful of egg.
People joined us after awhile, and were grateful to have some food, but I could tell the men were stressed.
I was stressed, and breakfast was only a brief respite for me. I wanted to say things, but kept my mouth shut, thinking everything else had to be more important than my own fears.
The night before loomed surreal in my mind. The Timeks had their party, and that’s where most people learned what had happened with my father. The ones who knew us felt obliged to stop in and wish us well, or offer prayers for Dad. That was kindness on their part, and not unappreciated, but not one of them could even say don’t worry, because they knew we had to worry, because that was all we had left to us.
Dad didn’t have some disease and hadn’t been in an accident. He was in the hands of people who were desperate enough to kidnap him from a small-town main street right in broad daylight. I may have recognized one of the men as Maurice Charmont, but the likelihood of that becoming fact was somewhere between slim and none.
My father was taken by desperate people for sure, but none of us knew who they were or what they might do. Bernie Sutton seemed confident that he could have the ransom together in one place before the kidnappers’ deadline, but nobody really thought that the money would somehow turn the kidnappers into honest men. We only had a threat anyhow, not a promise.
I got up from the kitchen table without a word when I realized that Dana had fallen asleep with his face down on his arms. I noticed that the clock said on my way into the living room. I sat on the sofa with my mind weak with misery. Then I stretched out to rest, but began to weep instead.
I was brought back when my cell phone trumpeted its existence, but the call was from Dan, not the kidnappers. I didn’t answer, but went to the phone on the table and called him.
“Hey, Paul,” he said after I identified myself. “Any news?”
“None,” I said. “Don’t call my cell number; it’s kind of reserved right now.”
Give Dan points for being quick. “Oh, man. Sorry! Are you okay over there? Want us to come sit with you?”
I hadn’t expected an offer like that, but it suddenly seemed appealing to me to have someone like Dan and Jim there with me. They were my friends; they were both strong-willed, and they weren’t so close to us that they’d get all emotional if things started to happen.
“You don’t mind?” I asked.
“Don’t be silly. We’re on our way. Need anything?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe a box of doughnuts.”
Dan sounded upbeat. “You got it! We’ll be right there.”
I hung up, then sat back on the sofa, where I realized that my eyes were wet and that I was a cruddy mess again. I ran upstairs to wash, and put my phone on the bathroom windowsill so I’d hear it, then I did a rush job cleaning up. I did it all, though, including a shave, and when I was in my room getting dressed I actually felt excited. Bernie was in my bed then, dead to the world and snoring like a chain saw, and I smiled at his chubby face.
My father trusts Bernie Sutton like George Bush trusts Karl Rove, but in Bernie’s case that trust has been earned by an honest man, over and over again. His fees may be high, but Bernie is the consummate honest lawyer, and his very presence was an enormous comfort to me. I could worry about my father, but Bernie would worry out everything else, and make what had to happen, happen.
Dan and Jim McNaughton had turned out to be friends of the first order. They didn’t come over the night before, but their father did. He explained that he’d kept the boys away just so they wouldn’t be in the way of anything. Now they were coming, and I found that thought almost exhilarating.
Tommy’s my best friend and Lisa is my girlfriend, but both of them would be the type to commiserate with me, and probably cry right along if I decided to cry. I don’t think Jim and Dan are the types to give me false hope, but they’d let me cry if I had to, and not decide to join in.
I’d just opened the door to head downstairs when my phone went off. This time it was from my father, so I answered immediately.
“Call them off!” a voice ordered. “Now!”
The call ended and I was frozen for a moment, then I screamed, “Bernie! Bernie, wake up!”
Bernie stirred, and the door to my father’s office burst open. Someone I hadn’t met saw me and asked, “What? What’s wrong?”
I stammered out, “They called … the kidnappers! They said call them off!” A flood of tears escaped my eyes and I whimpered, “What’s going on? What are you doing?”
The guy looked totally confused, and said, “Come in here,” just as my mother and Ally rushed out of their room, Elenora from hers, and Dana ran up the stairs.
Bernie Sutton beat me across the hall. He was still dressed except for shoes, and we all crowded into Dad’s office. Bernie spoke first, “What is it, Paul? They called? What?”
I was crying, but managed, “They said to call it off, like now. Nothing else.”
The officer now in charge looked at me, then barked out, “Find out who else has something going down now! Now! Give it a hundred mile radius. Two hundred!” He looked at Bernie and added, “Somebody’s close to our boys; they just don’t know it.”
My mother had me in a hug by then, and when I managed to see through my tears, Elenora was holding onto Dana. We were all visibly shaking with fright, and police running around and yelling didn’t help to calm us down. That took Bernie, who stretched his arms and kind of shepherded us toward the door, saying, “Come on, now. Let’s all go downstairs and let these people do their jobs. He put a little emphasis on the last three words, like it was an order rather than a suggestion.
I put my arm around my mother’s back when we got to the stairs, and she took hold of the banister. I couldn’t really see through my tears, but the stairs were familiar and we made it down, where we turned into the living room, just as a pounding came at the door. I yelled, “It’s open!” but apparently someone had locked it. The pounding took right back up, and I ran to the door, where Dan and Jim McNaughton were standing side-by-side. Their smiles turned to dread when they saw me, and Jim actually steadied me and helped me back inside.
While Dan mumbled, Jim said, “Oh, God! What happened, Paul?” He tried to steer me into the kitchen, but that was just where we normally went, and I led him to the living room. By then, Ally was sitting with my mother, Dana with Elenora, and Bernie was pacing while he whispered forcefully into his cell phone. I felt my pocket to make sure I still had my own phone, then went to the bathroom and retrieved a box of tissues. Dan took the box from my hands, pulled out a wad for me, then walked around offering them to the others.
It took a few minutes, but we all eventually calmed down. I pulled a chair in from the dining room and sat on that, straddling it, my arms on the back, my chin on my wrists. I wanted to talk just to say something, but I was afraid I’d just start crying again. Dan sat on the sofa beside Ally, and Jim sat on the coffee table in front of them, even though there were other chairs.
Bernie had moved into the other room. He was speaking in normal tones, but I couldn’t really hear him except the tone of his voice, which alternated between pleading and emphatic. I just looked at people, which didn’t make me feel better.
Jim said, “Doughnuts,” and hurried outside. He was back in seconds, with a large sack in his hand and a grin on his face. “Doughnuts. We have doughnuts. Is there coffee? Never mind, I’ll make some. He looked at Dana and gestured with his head, “C’mon, Danamat. Give me a hand.”
Jim was back in a minute, with doughnuts on a plate. Jim knew me. They’d brought three dozen doughnuts, and two dozen were all mixed varieties, but a full third of them were cinnamon-apple: my personal weakness. I was halfway through one when I looked at Jim. Dan was making coffee in the kitchen. Eating a doughnut at least got my mouth working, and I felt able to speak after a few bites.
I spoke in a monotone, afraid that letting emotion into my voice would set me off crying again. I caught Jim’s eyes, and he focused on me. “We’re scared. The kidnappers called before, and it’s like they thought they were being attacked or something. I don’t know, but they were screaming at me, or he was.” I felt my chin begin to quiver again, so I took a fat bite of the doughnut to make it stop. I took my time chewing, and I was good for another sentence. “I don’t know what they saw, or what they thought they saw, but the police here don’t know either, so they’re trying to find out if something else is going on.” I dropped Jim’s gaze and looked away, shaking my head. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Then the tears were back, and there was no holding them in. I hated feeling so weak, but I couldn’t help it, couldn’t stop. Ally and my mother both came and stood behind me. Mom knelt and hugged me, and Ally put her hands on my shoulders, and I cried.
Then I heard Bernie’s voice, wavering at first when he said, “Paul?”
I looked up just as Ally held a napkin to my left eye. I took that and patted that eye, then my right one, then looked at Bernie, whose expression was grim. “We have to talk, Paul. Now.” He looked at the others and sighed. “Give us two minutes, then I’ll fill you in. Don’t worry, okay?”
I stood, and
Bernie led me into the dining room, where he had me sit at the table. He
sat across from me and said, “They may have found them, Paul. Right here
I looked at Bernie through my bleary eyes. “And?”
“A crew went down a track in a machine that measures rail geometry and clearance. They called the police to say that someone shot at them, or they think someone did. An officer was sent down to take a look, and he didn’t find anything related to a shooting, but he did spot a blue van in an alley between some buildings.” Bernie shrugged and smiled at me. “Maybe nothing but a coincidence. I really doubt that, though.”
“What’s it mean?” I asked.
Bernie said, “Trust me, nobody will knowingly jeopardize your dad. Right now, it’s hands-off. If they call tomorrow with their instructions, we’ll do what they say. The police will take them after that.” His eyes focused on me, “This isn’t a done deal, Paul. We could be totally wrong. Nobody has stopped looking in other places, but this is our best bet so far.” He grimaced, “We don’t know who we’re dealing with, and that’s both good and bad. What I mean by that is, known terrorist groups do things their own way. This doesn’t match any known pattern, which doesn’t say it’s not a new group.” He smiled again, somewhat wanly. “I think the consensus upstairs is that we’re dealing with amateurs. They’re no less dangerous, but they’ll be far more likely to make a dumb mistake.”
I had been holding my breath, and after I exhaled I had to gasp in some air before I could say anything. “What should I do?”
Bernie smiled. “Treat the good guys like friends. Invite the people upstairs down for coffee and doughnuts. Talk to them while they’re here. Let them talk, mostly, and be interested. Right now, you’re the son of the victim. You’ll do yourself and Frank a great service by behaving like the great kid those guys wish they had at home.” He put his hand on mine atop the table. “It’s a matter of degrees, Paul, my friend. Right now is not the time for a smart mouth.”
I looked at Bernie, who was far more serious looking than I’d ever seen him, and nodded. “I understand.”
Bernie smiled gently. “Good. Why don’t you go upstairs and keep an eye on things while I tell the others what’s going on?”
I swallowed, “I can do that.” I looked at Bernie and bit my lip. “One thing?”
“What’s that, Paul?”
I said, “If we talk like this again, can you include Dana? I mean …”
Bernie looked stricken, and put his hand backwards against his forehead. “Oh, yeah.” He grimaced, “I’m an ass sometimes, I really am. Do you mind doing this conversation over like it’s the first time?”
I smiled in response, and Bernie was back in seconds with Dana, who he asked to sit beside me. “Dana, I was just about to tell Paul some things, and we both think you should hear all of it, from the beginning.” He smiled, “I hope you don’t mind.”
If Dana minded, he sure didn’t show it. He flushed with pride, sat up straight, then leaned forward. “Why would I mind? Just … just go ahead.”
Bernie repeated what he’d told me, which wasn’t a lot really, and Dana let him talk.
Dana had questions at the end. “What are the police doing? I
mean, we have the State police,
Bernie smiled, and looked at me while he pointed at Dana. “I like him,” he said, then turned to Dana. “I’m sure they’re doing all the things you see on television, Dana. I don’t think they’re going to tell us what those things are, but I’m sure they’re doing them.” He chuckled, “Without being in charge personally, I think I can give you my word that nothing and nobody will enter or leave that freight yard unquestioned. You can ask upstairs, but I’m sure there are both SWAT and sniper teams on standby, or on their way.” He looked at his hands on the table, then back at Dana and me. “We don’t know who we’re dealing with here. We don’t. We don’t know their intelligence, their sophistication, nothing. Nada. The whole thing in the freight yard may be unrelated, or a ruse to draw attention.”
I was weeping again, this time about the seeming futility of it all. Bernie said, “Take it easy, Paul.”
I choked out, “I can’t. I’m tired, and I feel cruddy, and I can’t even think straight.” I was kind of out of it, and it sounded to me like my voice was coming from outside of me.
Bernie said, “You know what? I feel tired and cruddy myself. Why don’t we each take a half hour to clean up, and try to think about better days. You boys can conk out if you want.”
I looked at Dana, who was already looking at me. “Good idea?” I asked.
Dana nodded and I looked back at Bernie, who looked weary, but not really beat-down yet. “Are you going to sleep a little?”
“I hope so. As soon as I see enough dollars all in one place, then I can sleep.” He smiled, “I’ll show you when it’s there. That will be pretty neat to see, even if it does all disappear tomorrow.”
I wanted to say something else, but didn’t. I was certain that my fears weren’t unique to me, so I just stood up. I looked at Dana and asked, “Coming?”
Then I thought about my phone, and that a shower might not be such a great idea. As if he read my thoughts, Bernie said, “You can leave that cell phone with me. That way you can not worry about it for a little while.”
I handed it over, saying, “It says Dad when it’s from my father’s cell. Just plain Dad – not Dad office or Dad home or anything.” I looked up at him and asked, “Got that?”
Bernie laughed, “Get out of here!”
Dana followed me out to the kitchen. Tom and Shea had shown up, and they were at the table playing Monopoly with Dan and Jim. Tommy is a notorious cheat at that game, and the board tilted upwards toward him because he had such large stacks of money tucked under it. That made me smile, and I asked, “Where’s my mother?”
Tommy went, “Shh! Grocery store. Shut up a second.” He was searching frantically through his deeds to see what somebody owed him.
I said, “We’re going to clean up. You done with the doughnuts? I’ll bring them up to the cops.”
Tommy dismissed me with a flick of his wrist, so I took a look and there were still close to two dozen doughnuts left. I put them all on a clean plate and headed out, looking over my shoulder to say, “Keep fresh coffee going, okay?”
Jim looked up from the game to me and smiled, nodding.
I brought the doughnuts up to my father’s office, which was occupied by more people than I thought. Most of them were on phones, tapping at laptops, or both. I had the doughnuts in two hands and announced, “Here’s some doughnuts. If you want coffee, there’s a tall kid in the kitchen with red hair. He’ll make you a pot whenever you want. We call him Tommy.”
Dana socked the back of my arm, snickering. Under normal circumstance in a room full of cops, I would have asked if that was not an assault. I almost did, but thought how desperately tired I was, and how stinky, and only said, “Anything you need, anything at all, ask the guys downstairs. They can make real food if you want.”
The guy in charge, whose name I’d forgotten, smiled and thanked us brusquely, then turned his attention back to his laptop.
Dana used my mother’s bathroom to clean up, and I used the one in the hall. My father has his own, but it also opens into the office where the police were.
matter to me; the shower water was what mattered. I turned it on just
warm, then increased the heat and turned around a few times when it was as hot
as I could stand it. Then I gradually cooled it off, and washed up
quickly when it was still warm. I rinsed off, then turned the hot down
until just before the water was too cold to enjoy. I’m weird maybe, but I
love that invigorating chilly water. Even in the shower it’s not a lot
different than jumping off a dock into a lake, or off a board into a pool, or
running into the cold surf on
I felt good when I got out, and had just spent ten minutes with my only thoughts on the water and how it felt. I’d already shaved, but I did spend some time on my teeth again. just to get the taste of grunge out of my mouth. When I walked back to my room in my robe and bare feet, I was almost giddy, but that good feeling faded while I got dressed. I was still dog-tired, and that reminded me of the situation, and I was nervous all over again.
I looked back in Dad’s office when I went by, but Bernie wasn’t there, so I went downstairs. He wasn’t in the living room or dining room, and there was suddenly a roar from the kitchen, and Bernie’s laugh was leading it. I hurried out there, and Tommy was red in the face, accusing Bernie of cheating at Monopoly, of all things.
“How did you get four railroads? I’m the banker. I never sold them to you.”
Jim poked Tom and said, “Yeah, you did.”
“Well, okay,” Tom sputtered. “Howcum you never land where I have a hotel? Huh? Howcum when you land on Chance you always win something?”
laughing. There was humor in Tommy’s voice like there always was, even as
he blustered. He heard my laugh and spun to point his finger at me,
without missing a beat. “And you! You always say I’m
cheating! Is this your revenge? Is that it? You hire a professional
cheater just to come and make me look like I never played before?” He
turned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at Bernie
Sutton. “Well! I’m not having it! I want to see the play-back
of every one of those so-called railroad purchases. He probably
has extra deeds to Boardwalk and
Dan was standing and laughing hard. He gasped, “Give it a break, Tom, please! I’m ready to bust a gut here.”
Tom looked at him and smiled. “What if I’m not done yet?”
By then, Dana was beside me, smiling at the hilarity even though he didn’t know what was going on, and right then, my phone, which was right in front of Bernie, sounded off. I’d changed the ring tone for Dad to Reveille, so it was him calling, and Bernie had the phone held out to me by the time I scrambled across the room.
I backed up as I opened the phone, bumping the counter just when I said, “Dad?”
His voice sounded strained, weak even. “New rules, Paul. They want the money tonight, no arguments.” I heard a soft splat sound, and a groan from my father, then the call ended abruptly with nothing else said.
I was stunned, and by that time Bernie was pulling me from the room while he yelled for someone to go upstairs for the police in charge. He pushed me down in a chair and said to someone, “Bring Paul a glass of water.”
I opened my mouth to talk, and Bernie brushed his hand through my hair. “Paul, wait for the police.”
“I better not,” I said. “They want the money tonight.”
“Shit! What time?”
“They didn’t say.”
“That was your father on the line?”
I nodded, then bolted toward the bathroom so I could throw up. It was closed, and the next best place was the tile floor in the front hall. I landed on my knees there with my head down, but ended up just gagging, with that awful, acid feeling in the back of my throat. Nothing came out, but I choked on that nothing for over a minute, and then Shea was there with a cup of water, which I kind of gargled on before swallowing. I sat back on my butt eventually, but kept sipping water because my throat hurt, and I couldn’t quite talk.
The hall was crowded with people urging me to take my time, take it easy, but that’s not how I’m put together. As soon as I could, I croaked, “Okay.” Even that got me out of breath, so I sat some more until I could get up on my own. By then I felt better, but just when I was ready to stand, my mother came in through the back door, sacks in hand, followed by Elenora with more sacks, and Ally. My mother let out a yelp when she couldn’t even see that it was me on the floor, but she knew, and I had a kiss on my cheek before she said anything.
“Oh, Paul. Now what?”
I said, “Let me up. I just thought I was gonna puke. I’m okay.”
She helped me to my feet while I said, “Dad called.”
Bernie said, “Paul, can you make it upstairs? Do you want something for your nerves?”
“No drugs,” I said, and my mother and Dana each took one of my arms and led me to the stairs. I saw faces as I passed: my friends, and they looked horrified by my ordeal. I stopped in my tracks. I looked around, feeling terrible, but I managed what I thought was a smile and said, “I’m okay.”
I didn’t have to go upstairs, because the people in charge were hurrying down them, so we ended up in the dining room, and nobody was asked to leave.
I repeated the brief call from my father, trying not to cry again over how fragile and frightened he had sounded. He’d been hurt; that much was clear to me, and I told everyone. I thought he’d probably been tortured, but that was conjecture I kept to myself. Let the others put it together.
While I was talking, I felt kind of dead. Not dead, but disconnected, like my words only had to be conveyed, and I didn’t care who heard them. I just stared while I talked. Not really at anyone in particular, but I was aware of my mother’s presence on one side of me, Dana’s on the other, and Bernie Sutton across the table.
When I did pay attention, after the questions had stopped, I saw one face that I liked. Lisa was there! Her face was worried, and her father was right behind her, one hand on each of her shoulders, looking at me like my father often did when I’d somehow surprised him in a good way.
I smiled my surprise, then lost the smile when Bernie said, “Give us a minute or two. I have to talk to Paul in private.” He looked around, “Dana, too.”
Rather than make everyone else leave, he gestured for us to follow him, and I was surprised when he walked out the side door and kept walking out into the yard. We didn’t go far, but far enough from the house that nobody could hear us. I felt better just being out in the air. It was kind of chilly, but a nice, clear day, and the outside air was refreshing.
Bernie walked in a tight circle around us for about two turns, then said, “This isn’t good, boys. Tell me how your dad sounded on the phone. Tell me what you thought.”
“Bad,” was the first word that came out. “He sounded weak, or maybe tired.” I didn’t want to say what I really thought.
“Hurt?” Bernie asked. “Do you think they’ve hurt him, Paul?”
My eyes teared up, but I was tired of crying. I nodded instead, then looked at the ground.
I felt Bernie scrutinizing me and looked back at him. He didn’t smile, but said, “Take a break from this, kids.”
“What?” I asked in unison with Dana.
“Listen. I may be able to get that money together today. I can certainly get most of it These people have to know it’s Sunday, and every dollar we can move is a favor.” He touched my shoulder, “Give me the phone, Paul. It’s time to negotiate, and that’s my job.”
I held the phone out, and he asked, “It’s charged?”
I looked, nodded, and handed it to Bernie. I wasn’t really reluctant to, but I did ask, “You’ll tell him I love him, won’t you?”
Bernie pulled me to him and stroked my back. “Paulie, he knows. I’ll tell him, but he surely knows your love. It’s mutual, too. I’ve seen it since you were in diapers, and through the years since.” He snickered, “You two are as different as night and day, personality-wise, but I’ve not met a more devoted father or son.” He looked at Dana and added, “Now he has two boys, and I promise that he views you the same way, Dana.”
He pulled back, hands on my shoulders, and looked right at me. “I also know that Frank is more than proud of the young man you’ve become.”
Bernie shook his head slowly, “Oh, yes. Really, Paul. Let me tell you, your dad is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever heard of, much less met, yet it’s you who he holds in awe.”
“Cut it out,” I said.
“It’s true,” Bernie said, as he tugged my shoulder and headed back toward the house, his other hand on Dana’s arm. He chuckled, “You’re rough around the edges, maybe. You can be caustic, sarcastic, and sometimes just off-the-wall, but you rarely miss the mark.” His hand tightened on my shoulder, then softened, and slid across to the other shoulder. “You’re never cruel, either, and I think that’s the point. You have this money, money that will turn the biggest, most important heads in the world, yet Paul Dunn doesn’t even want it.”
His hand lightened up on me. “You know what, Paul? I think you’re here in this world to do good things, big and small. You have the balls to jump in when you see what’s good or right, and that’s what’s rare. Your dad told me about your fund raiser for school, and that was brilliant. You knew you could get that money from your family, but you reached outside instead, and got more!”
Bernie made me feel better, but I said, “I don’t need stroking, Mr. Sutton.” I smiled at him, “I don’t. I need my father back. If you want to promise those people everything, go ahead and do it. We don’t need to be rich, and now we have people who can show us how to be poor and stay happy.” I looked at Dana and asked, “Right?”
Dana looked at me and stopped walking, and stepped backwards to look at me and Bernie. He said seriously, “Anybody could be poor; you sure don’t have to learn it. Surviving is the game when you’re broke all the time. You can be happy if that’s your nature, but bein’ poor ain’t gonna make anyone happy.” He smiled hopefully, “I think rich is way better, at least from what I can see.”
Bernie laughed out loud. “Yes, he sez! And if you do give it away, by Tuesday you’ll be rich all over again, knowing your father!”
I laughed, “Maybe not. We’re in the Laundromat business now.”
Bernie coughed, “Yes, well. I understand you have some new wrinkles for that business too, so my prediction stands.” We were at the door, and Bernie took my wrist, so I turned to him.
“I don’t know these people, Paul. I don’t know who they are, or their intentions. If they’re just crooks, then I doubt your dad will come to real harm. If they get what they want, there’s no reason, unless they’re real bastards.” His look changed, “If this is part of something else, something bigger, then Lord help us.” He patted Dana’s shoulder.
His look was sad, and he added, “Let’s not speculate. All we can do is our part, so let’s do it well and hope for a good outcome. I have to go in now, to hurry up some money.” He smiled, “Take a nap, guys. You need it, and you deserve it. When they call, trust me to find you right away.”
I nodded, then turned when I heard a car pull in. It wasn’t one I recognized, and Bernie went inside with Dana before the car had stopped. I stood there looking, then the passenger doors opened at once, and two gray heads stepped out, squinting in the bright sun.
“Grandpa!” I yelled, and ran over. “Grandma!”
driver stood on the other side, and it was my uncle Roger, my father’s older
brother, and one of my favorite people in the world. I got hugs and questions
from all of them, and I tried to explain what I knew before we went
inside. My grandparents live in
I led them inside, and we first encountered my mother, who literally swooned. “Oh my God! You wonderful people!” She hugged them in turn, then said, “You all know Ally! Oh God, it’s perfect that you came right away. We’re all so upset and frightened. Come, let me find a place where you can be comfortable.”
My Grandfather said, in his gentle voice, “Don’t go to any trouble. We have rooms at the inn.” He looked around at the people there, then marched into the crowd, his hand extended and his smile turned up to full wattage. “Hi. I’m David Dunn. This is my wife Caitlin, and my son Roger.”
Grandpa is an incredible people meeter. In three minutes he’d covered the room and acquired names and relationships that he would never, ever forget. Yes, one of those people. The few times they came to visit me when I was at Barents, he knew more names than I did. He doesn’t smoke, and never did, but he has a lighter with him at all times, and if he sees someone reaching for a cigarette, he’s right there to light it up for them.
My father, on
the other hand, has liked Tommy since we moved to
I was watching my grandfather work the room when Lisa finally stood beside me, which brought my attention to where it belonged. “Hi,” I said, then turned and smiled at her. Just when her benign look started to become a smile, I kissed her quickly.
“Sorry,” I said. “I …I …I”
“Don’t, Paul,” she said sweetly. “Don’t be sorry.”
“Well I am,” I said. “I’m not trying to be rude, but it’s like, I don’t know. It’s like the world is all off balance.”
Lisa took my hand firmly in hers and said, “Follow me.” She led me upstairs to my room and instructed me to take my shoes off while she shoved me onto the bed.
“Lay down, Paul. Close your eyes. I’ll sit right here.”
”I don’t …”
“You have to! Mr. Sutton said so.”
Well then, “Bernie did? Did he tell you the rules?”
“Rules?” Lisa asked.
I sighed, kicked my shoes off, and curled up on the bed. I really was exhausted, and looked at Lisa. “No rules. You’ll stay here?”
There was an Indian throw blanket at the end of my bed. Lisa pulled it over me and tucked me in. “Sleep, Paul. I won’t leave. I’ll be right here. Sleep.”